Healthy Nails Are Within Your Grasp

What do your nails say about your health?
By Cara Lucas

Old habits die hard. Although my mother tried every trick in the book to defeat my nail-biting habit as a youngster, picking at my fingernails was a stress-relieving pattern, and, like many children, my nails served as ten little targets for my anxiety.

We use our fingernails for many things: peeling an orange, strumming a guitar, or scratching an itch. Not realizing it, our fingernails mimic tools and are utilized constantly throughout the day. Damaging them (deliberately or without even thinking) can create an avenue for infection and other unattractive diseases to seep in and affect our health below the skin. Learning how this can happen can be just the trick to curb any unpleasant habit while beautifying you—from the outside in!

Nail Anatomy
Strong, well-maintained nails are a key indicator of good health. Nails are made of thin sheets of keratin, the same protein that is in your hair, and both nail and hair health are outward guides to internal health issues.

Each nail consists of several parts. The nail plate is what we view as the actual fingernail while the nail bed is the connective tissue located below the nail plate, often called the “quick.” These two areas are attached, allowing the capillaries in the nail bed to supply blood to the nail, nourishing it and giving it its pinkish hue.

Although you may not see the majority of it, the nail matrix is vital to a healthy fingernail. It sits below the cuticle at the base of the nail while its cells act to produce a healthy fingernail. If the matrix is exposed to trauma or damage, your nail will not grow properly, or may even stop developing completely. The part of the matrix you are able to see is called the lunula—the half-moon shaped portion at the bottom of your nail. Next is the cuticle, which consists of dead cells that keep foreign substances, and thus infection, out.

One of the most commonly reported problems with nails is that they become brittle and are easily broken. Over-exposure to harsh chemicals and other drying influences like heat, detergents, or nail polish removers weaken nails. Another problem is trauma. Some examples are slamming your finger in a door or striking your finger with a hammer. Fungal infections and skin infections are also major problems for your nails. Below are some tips for keeping your nails looking lovely!


Natural Nails
Moisturize your nails: Did you know that your nails contain zero fat? Because of this, they can’t naturally hold in moisture. Applying a moisturizer on a consistent basis is important to lock in water, preventing possible breaks or tears around the nail area. Staying hydrated is important, as well, and getting plenty of water can go a long way to retaining moisture in your nails. Another tip is to apply olive oil on your cuticles to create a healthy barrier—this simultaneously adds beneficial nutrients to your skin.

Not to confuse you, but be careful to avoid too much moisture. An infected nail thrives on excess moisture in warm environments, so, in this case, take care to keep it dry.

Assess the risks: Wearing fake nails can trap too much moisture around the nail bed while the glue can also cause serious damage to the nail’s roots. Also, be careful not to overuse fingernail polishes and nail hardeners. Although they aren’t supposed to contain formaldehyde, some still do, and could initiate an allergy or infection. While you’re at it, wean off the polish remover! It contains acetone that dries out your nails even more.

Supplement with Biotin: Researchers have found that this B complex-vitamin improves the strength of horses’ hooves. As it turns out, it does the same for humans and their brittle nails! Currently the adequate intake (AI) for biotin in women that are pregnant and over 18 years old is 30 mcg, while breastfeeding women require 35 mcg. You can find biotin in foods like chard, eggs, tomatoes, cucumber, and almonds.

Utilize baking soda and salt: You can keep your fingernails clean and soften your cuticles by polishing them with a nail brush dipped in baking soda. Salt is another great cupboard find that can help soften cuticles or reduce inflammation in ingrown nails. A warm, saltwater soak can also make trimming hard nails easier. Simply add one tablespoon of salt per quart of water and soak for 30 minutes.

Wear protection: As you clean, you can come into contact with some of the harshest chemicals on the market. Even if you do it naturally, citrus fruits like lemons can leave your hands and nails parched. Try wearing gloves when you perform these activities—this protects against brittle nails, infection, or even nail separation, which can lead to nail loss or deformity.


Nail Conditions:
Common Causes
Nail problems can be attributed to a number of issues. Common causes are trauma, infection, and various ailments like eczema or psoriasis.

However, very few nail problems stem from complications in diet and nutrition and, depending on the severity of the condition, can often be treated at home. Below are some nail conditions that act as possible warning signs for more complex illnesses:

Nail discoloration: Your nail should be pink, turning white as it grows away from the nail bed. Anything variant from this can be attributed to nicotine from smoking, antibiotic or chemotherapy drugs, nail polish, or types of hair coloring.

Thickened nails: Affecting mostly toenails, this could be from a fungal infection or, quite possibly, psoriasis.

Ridged nails: Ridges that form along the length or width of the nail plate can be caused from fever, illness, trauma, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, or circulatory disease.

Splitting Nails: Do your nails split in layers as they grow? This can be from constantly having wet hands, especially when soap and detergents are involved. It can also result from continuously using your nails as tools like picking your teeth or tapping your desk.

Lifted Nail Plate : The term onycholysis is used when the nail separates from its bed. This can be caused from injury, thyroid disease, psoriasis, or reactions to certain drugs.

Tery’s Nails: With this specific condition, your nails seem almost opaque and have a dark band at the very tip. Often due to aging, it can also be a sign of serious illness such as congestive heart failure, diabetes, liver disease, or malnutrition.

Spoon Nails: Also known as koilonychias, the fingernail is scooped out and can often cup a drop of water. This is often a sign of irondeficiency anemia.

Nail Clubbing: You can recognize this when the nail curves around your fingertips while the tips of your fingers also become enlarged. This is a key indicator of low oxygen levels in the blood and could be a sign of lung disease. Other issues to watch out for are inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, and liver disease.

Yellow Nails: This discoloration may mean you have respiratory issues, like chronic bronchitis.

Try starting a new habit by caring for your nails. Often neglected, they are a direct sign of your health and deserve to be pampered, too. Healthy nails are at your fingertips—literally!


Fun Fingernail Facts
>> Your fingernails grow about 1/8 of an inch a month.

>> Fingernails grow faster than toenails.

>> Nails on the longest fingers grow the fastest.

>> Fingernails of individuals who are right-handed grow faster on their right hand versus their left.

>> Fingernails grow faster during the summer, during pregnancy, and when they are recovering from injury.